composting – apartment style

There are a number of reasons why I joined a CSA last year, many of them environmental. I liked the idea of buying more of my food from someone who treated the earth a bit more sustainably. I also liked that it took less fossil fuels to get that food to me. Add in supporting a local business, especially a local farm, and I was game. This year I can add in that I loved all the fresh veggies, hence why I signed up again. One downside though was the realization of how much plant waste I was throwing away. I’m not exactly in a settled living situation, so having a compost bin isn’t exactly a good idea. And even if I did compost, I’d have no where to use it since I didn’t have anywhere to garden.

Last year I had tried to just give my compostables away, figuring at least someone else could get the benefit out of them so that I wasn’t throwing them into the landfill. But I had no takers. Item number 64 on my 2010 to do list is to give my compostables to someone who composts this year. I figured that thinking about it earlier in the year would give me more time to get it figured out. But I came up with an even better idea. I’ve started composting that waste myself!

I’ve read about vermicomposting, aka worm bins, a few times. But it had never really seemed like anything I’d want to do. Until about a month ago when I had an ahha moment. It wasn’t anything profound, but I did realize that I could certainly do a worm bin. And considering that I’m sharing a garden patch with someone this season, I now have somewhere to put that compost to use (eventually). So last weekend I bought the two things I needed to make my worm bin, and then I assembled the rest of my supplies. I could link to the sites I used as inspiration, but really, there are so many that simply doing a google search will result in likely more than most people can handle.

So here’s the story of how I did mine (with pictures!).
My worm bin will hold plant waste for anywhere from 1 to 4 people (me, my roommate, and our SO’s). So I decided to get two medium Rubbermaid roughneck bins. This should be enough space for the amount of plant material we will produce.

To get the bins ready, you need to put some holes into them. Worms are aerobic creatures, so the bin needs to have air flow. Holes are needed in the sides and tops for this. Holes are also needed in the bottom for proper drainage. You only put holes in one bin and use the other as the holder so that anything that drains has a place to collect. I had to get a bit creative on making the holes. I don’t have a drill and wasn’t really keen on asking someone to lend me one. Thankfully these Rubbermaid bins are pretty pliable, so I used a long screw and a screw driver and literally worked holes into the plastic. I then used a thick nail to widen the holes a bit (don’t ask why I have these things lying around, but no drill). This worked wonders.

You’ll want some sort of supports inside the outer bin to better promote air flow. My first set up (pictured) wasn’t quite high enough, so I added in two empty plastic frozen juice containers (not pictured).

For my base, I used cut up toilet paper tubes (which I normally collect to be recycled) and a torn up phone book (knew it was good for something!). As per a few suggestions, I also added a handful or so of leaves and a bit of dirt (worms have gizzards and a bit of dirt helps them grind up their food). Some sites suggested a good misting with water to get things started, so I did that too. I got a handful of worms from a neighbor through FreeCycle and added them to my bin. Ideally I should be starting with about 500 worms (around a pound), but I decided to go with what I could get for free from other people willing to split their bins a bit.

Last I topped it all with cardboard, put the lid on and slid it into the hall cabinet.

I’ve given them two batches of food so far. Both batches I’ve run through the food processor a bit figuring that smaller pieces will break down faster. And I like using my new food processor :)

So there you have it. I’ve crossed #64 off my list for this year and maybe in a few months a few select garden plants will get some extra yummy compost!

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